When I rolled into Surabaya to jump a plane for my visa run, it was already dark. My flight was scheduled for the morning and all I had to do now was find safe lodgings for the bike. As for myself, I’d figure out where to sleep later.

I had a map location for the house of local rider, an acquaintance of a friend. In true Indonesian style, my request for a garage in Surabaya had spread across the archipelago by the power of WhatsApp, and now I roamed the streets of the city looking for the home of a total stranger, a new friend.

As usual, Google Maps gave me creative directions and I soon found myself lost in dusty back alleys with locals watching curiously: pulled over in the gutter, peering at my phone, bike trying to rapidly overheat, fan on, leg burning quietly over the exhaust. Sweat running down my face. Even after dark, Surabaya keeps its heat.

But, you get used to it. Eventually I found the entrance to the right housing estate and – to my surprise – the guards immediately let me in. They saw my bike, and seemed to know where I wanted to go; when I got there, I understood. KTM, Husquevarna, Honda; Yudi’s garage was a wonderland.


Security = decoy mode.

Compared to these farkled offroad beasties, my trusty 690 looked dirty and tired. A bit like me, really. Yudi came out to greet me and in the face of my planless, homeless gormlessness on this sweaty Surabaya night, he kindly offered me a bed and a hot shower too.


* * *

By the next morning, I am at Surabaya’s International Airport being interrogated by security personnel about the large blade which is, apparently, concealed in my carry-on.

If you have ever been on the road for a good period of time, you’ll understand that you develop a system; everything falls into place. Each item has its assigned location on the bike, and if you are with your bike then you know, without thinking, that you have everything needed for life.

Then try getting on a plane with only carry-on. What are you supposed to take with you to live without a motorbike? (Apparently this is possible?) Which stashes need to be retrieved from the bike, and which things carefully left behind?

So now I’m standing at the security x-ray machine, and the staff are looking at me funny.

– You’ve got a large blade in your bag, they tell me.

– No I don’t, I tell them.

I know that I don’t; I was very careful to make sure that I left out my Leatherman, that I left out my stabby knife.

– I really don’t have a blade in there, I tell them. 100% certain.

They don’t believe me. They point to a pale mark on the x-ray image.

– That’s it, they say. Can you get it out and show it to us, please.

I’m confused, and almost annoyed.

– I would get it out for you, I tell them, but I don’t have one. I don’t know what you’re talking about. But you’re welcome to look.

So everything comes out of my bag.

Undies, socks, Hemingway, toothbrush. They’re looking at the $2 canvas shoes that I bought at the market that day in Timor Leste, to walk up the Mountain of the Dead.

They look inside my shoe. They pull out a blade.

They look at me. I look at them.

– Oh, I say. Oh dear. My bad.

Months ago, my stabby knife had broken. It broke while I was cutting an onion, not even while I was stabbing anyone, so I was understandably incensed. What kind of quality was that? And thus I’d been carrying the broken blade with me ever since, in the hopes of one day getting in touch with the manufacturer to express my disappointment.

Well, that had been my intention. But now here I am, swearing to airport security that I really don’t have a knife when there’s a 5cm blade hidden in the toe of my shoe.

It just seemed like a good place to store it. Honestly.

It’s an implausible story. I’ve been adamantly denying everything, and now here is the weapon, obscurely concealed. It’s fundamentally suspicious. I definitely sound like a terrorist.

But then they just smile, and shrug, and chuck the broken blade in the bin, and wish me a good journey.

I’m stunned.

It’s a privilege, I think, to be educated Western and white.


0 thoughts on “How not to fly

  1. Kevin says:

    Usually when that happens in the airport at SE Asia, the security will mainly inform that you cannot take it on the plane and needs to be confiscated /left behind. After that they just let you go your merry way. Happened to me once when I forgot to remove a set of screwdrivers from my bag

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